The problem with any discussion of “left” or “right” in American politics is that everything is relative. Many tend to think of themselves as in the middle, ergo “left” and “right” are defined in relation to where we individually stand, not in absolute terms.
This has a number of inherent flaws.
The “independent” is romanticized as being the un-biased person, willing to look at and accept all the facts, rather than being closed-minded in either direction. Often though “independent” voters are actually decided but trying to appear open-minded. Sometimes they are just ignorant and don’t have an opinion because they don’t know anything.
We also tend to define left and right by parties. The Democrats are the “left” and the Republicans are the “right” and the “middle” is between the two parties. As the both parties move that also means the center is moving.
Imagine a tug-of-war with a knot in the middle. As Republicans and Democrats pull back and forth on the rope, the knot moves. Our definition of left, right and middle then becomes dynamic, rather than a constant.
Finally we have a fragmental segment of the political spectrum in the US, but we call those who are different from us extremist, whipping around words like “Nazi” and “Communist” as though they actually have meaning in the sense that we are using them.
We over-use the notion of slippery slopes, suggesting that any move to the right will inevitably result in Fascism and any move to the left, full-blown Soviet-style Socialism.
Because we only view the American political spectrum, we misunderstand what extremism is, what left is, what right is and what the center is.
Speaking specifically of the economic factors, and leaving the social aspects aside (a topic for another day), there are essentially two vying parties, neither of which is inherently good or evil. They just both exist.
They are they wealthy, and the rest. Now, when I say wealthy, I don’t mean the top two percent. I mean the top tenth of the top one percent. I don’t mean millionaires. I mean those who have hundreds of millions, billions or tens of billions of dollars.
One of the things we do in America is look at “income” as opposed to wealthy, which can be incredibly misleading.
The top one percent of Americans have 35.4 percent of the wealth. The other 99 percent controls the other 64.6 percent.
Furthermore the aggregate wealth of the Forbes 400 is greater than the wealth of the bottom 60 percent of the country combined.
This is not a judgment. It is simply a fact. Whether that “should” be the case is a part of where we have discussions. It is the case though.
Furthermore, in 2008 (the last year the data is available) the 108 firms with at least 100 employees last year employed 78 million Americans, compared to 42 million who were employed by firms who had 99 or fewer employees. In other words about two-thirds of American employees depend on large employers for their income.
Again, I’m not trying to argue anything of the ethics involved here. I only establish the fact that there are two distinct groups here. There are the extremely wealthy, and there is everyone else, and the everyone else group depends on the wealthy group.
Some would argue that the “everyone else” group is a misnomer, that there are plenty of people, such as the self-employed, who are self-reliant, and not dependent on the wealthy. While that is directly true, it’s not true indirectly.
Self-employed people are dependent on the ability to do business, and thus their business is hugely impacted by the dynamics of the giant employers. For example, if they run a T-shirt shop, they need to sell their shirts. If the local big employer(s) are doing well they will sell more shirts because the local populace will have more money to spend to spend at the shop.
If the big business goes under though, then all that salary gets lost to the community, and the whole community suffers, including the self-employed person’s shop.
The essence of this conversation is tainted by Karl Marx and words like bourgeois and proletariat, but that doesn’t mean that those things don’t exist. Just recognizing the reality of distinct classes, and that these two inherently interact doesn’t equate to class warfare.
There are essentially two force in action, the extremely wealthy, and everyone else.
Both are competing for the same thing, more. And if you’ve watched any AT&T commercials lately, you know that “more is better than less because more is more.”
These two parties represent the “left” and the “right,” with the “left” being the “people,” and the right being those who control the wealth, which in today’s society means the corporations. These two forces battle for control in the government.
Perhaps it’s best to establish where the middle is by considering where too far is in both directions.
“Left” would be the government owning and controlling the means of production, removing any power form the wealthy. This we know from history removes incentive form the work-force to work because there is no means to progress. There are only quotas to meet, and you end up with an unproductive work force.
Right would be the corporate elite reigning unchecked by any regulation. This too can result in a work force without incentive. If the corporations aren’t concerned about the health and wellbeing of their workers, and are only seeking the most profitable results, workers will have the same attitude as they would under a socialist oppressor.
In essence, if you’re being oppressed, you really don’t care who your oppressor is, you just don’t want to be oppressed anymore.
Now, in America, we’re not really oppressed, and while some are going to argue that we are, let’s skip the hyperbole shall we? In the grand scheme of things, we aren’t being oppressed to some dystopian level.
Picture the economy as a see-saw, with the government being the board, the wealthy being on one end, and the people sitting on the other. We can say that the fulcrum upon which the see-saw pivots is incentive.
Incentive is the key to keeping the economy moving.
The wealthy need an incentive to invest their money rather than just sit on it. They need to believe that by doing so their wealth can grow. Without incentive, no one invests. Without incentives to invest, new jobs aren’t created and old jobs go away.
The masses need incentive to work. Without promise of becoming the wealthy, they stagnate and become unproductive. Who is going to work their tail of to be exactly the same? Healthcare provision keeps the workers not only willing to work, but often able to work as well. Safety regulations and age restrictions protect the worker from over-demanding employers.
If either side gets too fat and heavy, the see-saw stops moving.
The “middle” of the left and right is incentive, and we should all be pro-incentive.
So, when we’re looking at where the country is moving, it makes sense to look at how the wealth is moving. The top one percent that owns 35.8 percent of the nation’s wealth now, controlled just 20 percent of it in 1980.
Since 1980 real wages for the top one percent have risen over 240 percent while real wages for everyone else have remained virtually the same.
Last year the top one percent of the country earned 24 percent of the total income, compared to just 9.8 percent 30 years ago.
The average CEO makes 380 times as much as his average employee.
Wal-Mart is the world’s largest private employer, with 1.8 million employees. They pay 28 percent less than other retailers and more than half their full-time workers live in poverty. Furthermore, their low-pay depresses the entire retail market.
In 1950 labor unions accounted for over 35 percent of American employees. Now it’s less than 15 percent. Union employees, on average, make about $10,000 more than non-union workers, have better health care and shorter work weeks. They have more job-security. And, contrary to what capitalism should suggest, they are being phased out. This is because the corporate world is working against capitalism
When Bentio Mussolini coined the term “Fascism” he was referencing the “fascia,” a bundle of sticks which represented the government, bound together with the corporations. He felt that the best people to run the different aspects of the country were the corporate leaders from each industry.
The so-called “iron triangles” of lobbyists, elected officials and corporate execs account for the almost exclusive voice in Washington DC are hardly discernible from that vision.
Over the last 30-plus years there’s substantial evidence that the nation has been moving right. It is pretty apparent that we are already further to the “corporate” side than the “everyone else” side if we use wealth as the measure.
While most Americans agree that there should be no “equal slice of pie” scenario where everyone has exactly the same, the perception of what should be is still way off of what is.
The average American thinks that the top 20 percent has as much wealth as what only the top one percent has.
Americans also don’t understand how wealth is actually distributed. They think that the top 20 percent owns about 58 percent of the nation’s wealth. They believe it should be about 30 percent. It’s actually at 85 percent.
Part of the problem with using perception as a basis for right and left is that our perception is so far out of whack with reality that it can’t be trusted.
There is no question that right now the weight is on the side of the wealthy.
We only need to ask ourselves two questions. 1. Are we moving towards or away from the fulcrum of initiative, and 2. if so, in which direction are we moving? The evidence is compelling that we are moving, moving towards the right, and oblivious to the reality that we are.
We taint the conversation with words like “liberal” and “conservative.” What if we just did away with those labels and called ourselves incentivists? I don’t think that many would argue that incentive is good.